FOMO, or fear of missing out, is the sense that you need to stay connected to what others are doing because otherwise, you may miss out on something rewarding or important.
This is not a new phenomenon – it’s related to what was called “keeping up with the Joneses” in past generations. It’s the idea that if you weren’t engaging in the same activities or buying the same material goods as your neighbors, you’d experience a drop in social class.
However, social media has exacerbated this idea. You can see at the click of a button what your neighbors or peers are up to and what they’re buying, and you worry that if you don’t keep clicking those buttons, you’ll fall behind.
Some people are more affected by FOMO than others, but it’s a common enough feeling that most people can understand it.
But what do serious cases of FOMO do to your mental health, and how can you deal with a sense of missing out that’s harming your mental health?
Take a look at what you need to know about FOMO and mental health.
How FOMO Affects You
It seems likely that too much FOMO has a negative effect on your mental health.
People who are extremely concerned with what peers, neighbors, coworkers, or others are doing may have feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness. They may engage in compulsive behaviors, checking social media constantly, even when they want to stop. And they may suffer from poor sleep, reduced mindfulness, and depression.
It’s normal to be curious about and interested in what other humans are doing, especially those you identify with in some way, such as classmates or coworkers. But it’s also important to be able to put what you see into perspective and not let keeping up with the movements of your social group take over your life.
You may not be able to get rid of FOMO entirely, but you can learn to manage those feelings and minimize any negative effects that they’re having on your life.
Recent FOMO? Don’t Compare the Highlight Reel to the Cutting Room Floor
One thing that’s helpful to keep in mind is that when you see posts on social media of other people enjoying parties or buying new things is that these pictures are curated in order to present a specific image. They don’t tell the whole story.
Your friend’s social media posts are their highlight reel. You see the best moments of the party, not the boring moments. You see the new clothes, not the credit card bills.
When you compare their highlight reel to your entire life, you’re forgetting all those moments that you leave on the cutting room floor and ignoring the fact that other people have those moments too.
After all, you probably don’t post pictures of yourself looking bored or annoyed at a party either, right?
You post pictures of yourself when you’re smiling and having fun. You also don’t post your own credit card statement next to the picture of your latest purchase. But you know that purchase had a cost.
Other people’s purchases have cost too, and they probably have as many boring moments as you do. They’re just not sharing those, so you don’t see them.
That’s how you end up comparing someone else’s highlight reel to the things that you yourself are leaving on the cutting room floor. That’s not a fair comparison.
Schedule Social Media Breaks
Social media isn’t the cause of FOMO, but it definitely feeds FOMO. One of the best things you can do for yourself if you’re struggling with FOMO is to take a break from social media.
However, just turning your phone off or muting notifications isn’t enough.
You’ve probably tried that already, and you know that you still experience the anxiety that you might be missing something important even when you’re not getting notifications.
So, your best bet is to schedule a social media break and plan something else to do during that time:
- Take a walk with your neighbor
- Play outside with the dog
- Bake a batch of cookies
- Read a book that you’ve been meaning to get to
If you can get your brain engaged in something else, you won’t miss those notifications and you won’t feel compelled to scroll through social media to find out what else is going on.
Look for Negative Thought Patterns
If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts like “I’m unpopular,” “I’m boring,” or “everyone is having fun but me,” you may want to start tracking those thoughts to see if there are patterns that you can detect and change.
Write down the thought and what you were doing when you had it. If scrolling social media when you’re home alone is making you feel bad, maybe you need to find something else to do when you’re home alone.
You can also try to replace some of those negative thoughts with more reasonable thoughts. Replace “I’m unpopular” with “I value my close friends and they value me.” Replace “I’m boring,” with “I enjoy relaxing with a good book or movie on nights when I’m not up for a party.”
Think about the narrative that you’re creating in your mind. If it’s your goal to make new friends, be more social, or be more adventurous, then by all means, you should take steps to do those things.
But scrolling through social media comparing yourself to others who are doing those things isn’t a necessary step in the process.
Don’t get trapped in a pattern of negative thinking. Make a list of concrete steps that will help you achieve your goal and go do them.
Or, consider whether you even want to be doing the same things that you see others doing online.
Maybe you’re not at that party because you didn’t really want to be there. Maybe you didn’t actually want to spend the money on a new dress right now because you’re saving up for something you want more.
In that case, acknowledge that you’re making the choices that are right for you, and they don’t have to match up with what your peers are doing.
You can get out of the trap of FOMO by understanding what it really is and how to change your own thought patterns.
If you think that the fear of missing out is negatively impacting your mental health and the steps above aren’t helping, it might be worth talking to a therapist about.
He or she can help you reframe your thoughts so you aren’t plagued by the comparisons and negative thinking that are making you feel anxious, lonely, or frustrated.